Anthrax scares continue to impact nation's post offices

By Megan Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com
 

   The first death from letters containing anthrax mailed via the United States Postal Service made news headlines the beginning of October 2001. Nearly one year later the effects of the anthrax scare are still being felt at post offices around the country, as confidence in the nation's oldest mail carrier slowly returns.
   One of the most significate hits to the Postal Service has been the reduced mail volume's impact on finances. The Postal Service had a net loss of $281 million in Quarter 3. Although a considerable reduction in expenses across the board helped to keep capital loss lower than anticipated, the Postal Service will have to make an additional $500 million in expense cuts in Quarter 4.
   The effects of the anthrax letters can be felt at post offices far from Washington D.C. or New York City. John Pierce, Supervisor of Customer Service for the Elizabethton Post Office, immediately noticed a decline in the volume of mail circulating through his office. "The entire economy and the mail volume decreased after that. The mail volume usually goes in correlation with the economy, but it always came back before in a very short time. It did not come back. It still has not come back," Pierce said.
   Pierce used his 30 years of experience with the U.S. Postal Service to help keep the Elizabethton Post Office running as smoothly as possible during the days after the initial anthrax letters. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handed postal workers a number of new precautionary tasks, the mail never stopped circulating through the Elizabethton Post office. "I was very proud that all our people came to work, not only here but all across America," Pierce said. "We take it seriously that we are going to make one delivery a day."
   Many changes have been implemented at the Elizabethton Post Office in order to comply with the new guidelines set by Centers for Disease Control. Pierce is required to offer his employees protective gloves, and purchased a hepifilter vaccuum cleaner and special masks designed to protect against dusts. Cleaning procedures have changed at the post office as well. Every floor of the building has to be cleaned with a bleach solution before floors are swept.
   Pierce now personally checks all off the vehicles once a day to make sure there are no breaks in security, and he along with all other postal workers in America, is required to wear an identification badge while at postal facilities. "We are very proud of this post office and we want to make sure we are doing everything right to provide a safe environment for our employees and customers," Pierce said.
   The Postal Service's image has taken a beating along with its mail volume. The nation is still trying to convince itself that the anthrax attacks on Senators Dashal and Laehy, Tom Brokaw, and in Florida were the last attempts to terrorize the U.S. Postal Service. "The way people view us has changed forever," Pierce said. "It used to be that you never thought about reaching in your mailbox and grabbing your mail. It is like innocense has been lost."